Our Visit to Glenfarclas Distillery
It takes around 7 hrs to make the journey from Nickolls and Perks of Stourbridge to the doors of the Craigellachie Hotel in Ballindalloch.
Situated next to the Spey river near the village of Aberlour, Speyside In the Scottish highlands the hotel bar offers over 700 whiskies, amongst the best of which comes from the famous Glenfarclas (‘Vale of green grass’) distillery in the Ballindalloch community itself. We were going to this distillery the following day to taste cask samples of vintage Glenfarclas single malt with the intention to have a whole cask bottled as a Nickolls and Perks ‘Special Release’ being aided by Nick James from Pol Roger, the distilleries UK agent.
The lovely dark colour of well-used direct-fired copper stills. Soft initial nose giving way to sweet aroma of being at a fairground, candy floss, puff candy and toffee apples. Big rich sherry taste, more so on the taste than you are sensing on the nose. A big whisky really coats your entire mouth, warmth with no agression. Christmas cloves present and some light milk chocolate. Long rich finish, lots of power. A delightful dram that has one drawback – you always want another one.
I really love the Speyside sherry influenced style, Nick invited me up here and as an independent family business started in 1797 we were looking for something fabulous to bottle in celebration of our 215th year….
On arrival at 4pm there was time to enjoy the hotel & grounds, stretching our limbs in welcome anticipation of the evening to come when we would be joined by George Grant the Director of Sales at Glenfarclas Distillery.
As sun set on the roof tops of Glenfarclas beneath the mountain of Ben Rinnes, we sat down inside the Mash Tun Whisky Bar in Aberlour where George handed us a dram.
It was the Glenfarclas 175th anniversary, an accomplished 2011 celebration bottling vatted from six casks, a 1952 with one each from five subsequent decades. Characterised by the ‘Farclas caramel toffee sweetness and dried but sweet fruit finish this multi-layered bute of a dram has no little length neither. Notably this dram conveys the hidden depths that Glenfarclas beholds, in flavour profile and stock inventory terms. The Grant family have laid down casks in laudable fashion and today the dunnage warehousing contains casks from every decade going back 50 years.
Back at the Craigellachie Hotel Whisky bar I stood momentarily transfixed at the sheer number of bottles on the shelves then to be quickly enthralled with inquisitive eyes as I danced from shelf to shelf marking the passage of time….a Macallan 1946 Fine and Rare, an Ardbeg provenance, a collection of official Port Ellen releases… We’d come in from -15C and decided to chauf up with a bottle of the Glenfarclas 40 year from which the barman poured the vital liquid with great care! This is their oldest age statemented bottling (I hear rumours of a limited 50 YO release to be announced in not too distant future…magnificent!) and its quality is as laudable as it’s sensible price… Distinct spiced sherry notes mingle with a nutty crunch nose , the taste is well balanced and round with a rich chewiness . The finish is long and has evident sweet nougat and dried apricot overtones.
Nick fetched a Glenfarclas private octave bottling from his room, a non-commercial dram done for staff, I could tell as the clear glass bottle had no label except for a small white sticker with ‘Nick’ written on it…we tried it and loved it …our curiosity thought that it was a youngish malt with cask strength character traits….and indeed it tallied with the senses as being ‘bang on’ Glenfarclas.
Up until the 1970’s particularly keen neighbours of the distillery were able to buy their whisky direct in quarter casks. Today, mere mortals cannot be considered for this particular type of ‘private bottling’ – there just ain’t enough to go around as a considerable run on stocks has been experienced due to a greatly increased interest for cask strength whisky from single casks. My purpose here is to discover and taste single cask Glenfarclas Whisky
The pleasurable task at hand the next day envolved choosing a number of these casks for bottling and with George as my guide I knew we were to find something extra special. Glenfarclas single malt is sold the world over and George looks after the key markets of Germany, UK, North America, India & South Africa. When he agreed personally to show Nickolls and Perks exclusive releases at Whisky festivals in Germany this was great news indeed…Limburg here we come!
I was shown around the Glenfarclas distillery by the affable Mr Grant who began his tour with a jovial insight to family matters recalling, “When I was first taken to the family church yard resting place I looked upon the gravestones and saw my grand-fathers name, George Grant and his father , my great grand-father’s name, George Grant. I asked why my name ‘George Grant’ was not there. My father (John Grant) replied it’s because you’re not dead yet”.
George spends up to six months a year in foreign markets where the presence of big conglomerates abounds but he is careful to emphasise that Glenfarclas is family-owned and family run, which makes a difference.
We were greatly helped in our pursuits by Warehouse Foreman, Tommy Webster; he knew where each cask was laid and provided the necessary keys to unlock each Duty – Free warehouse in turn. The first door was opened and immediately a sweet scented aroma drifted past me; these were dunnage warehouses, widely believed to be more beneficial for cask maturation and perfect for long term periods over 25 yrs. The secret lies in the open earth flooring, low rise roofing and thick stone walls that help keep consistency of temperature and provide high humidity. I knew that Glenfarclas had very good aged sherry oak casks on site, but seeing them here was a dream come true, so we approached the position where Tommy had pulled a sample from a 1963 cask that had laid down for 49 years with great expectation!